Perhaps I should begin by saying that, while I thought the Capture clips were a clever idea, I never found them very practical. At least not for my style of shooting. And there’s the rub. We each have our own shooting style, so what works for one person may not work for someone else, or, to look at it another way, what doesn’t work for me may work for you.
I’ve been working with photo backpacks ever since Ultimate Experience introduced the very first one several decades ago, in the pre-digital age (look it up, I think museums have a hall dedicated to it). That pack was well-constructed and very lightweight, but it had numerous shortcomings, to the point where I was happy when new packs started to arrive on the scene. Back then Lowepro stole the show. Today MindShift Gear is setting the benchmarks in outdoor/wilderness packs and Think Tank Photo in travel packs.
Anyway, when the Peak pack arrived, the first thing that struck me was, hey, this is one stylish bag. I was really curious to see how well it would hold up under actual use. I took a peek (no pun intended, well, maybe just a little) inside the Peak, and, again talking to myself, said, hmmm, let’s load this baby up and take it for a spin. So I did just that.
Peak sent me the ash-gray pack, which features leather accents. Too early to tell how this leather will hold up, but it does add a modicum of refinement any way you slice it. The charcoal pack is entirely fabric (sans leather accents).
The backpack harness consists of thinly padded shoulder straps, with sternum (chest) strap and waist belt. The ends of the waist belt are hidden in the outside pockets. If you have arthritic fingers, you may have a tough time accessing them – get a friend to help.
In addition to the backpack harness, the bag features a handle on each side, as well as on top – nice touch. On the ash bag, the handle is a composite of fabric and leather layers.
There are stretchable pockets on the outside hiding compression straps. You can use one pocket and its respective compression strap for a tripod, the other pocket on its own for a water bottle.
What gives the side pockets their stretch are elastic bands. I was able to fit a 32 oz. Nalgene water bottle in the pocket, but I fear that over time the elastic may wear and break. (Other straps are hidden away under the front of the bag, in a hidey-hole, so to speak.)
There’s also a zipped sleeve, accessible at the top, on the back, which will hold various accessories, a tablet, and laptop.
The main zipped flaps afford you entry to the camera section, one zipped flap on each side. And that’s where the story gets especially interesting. You can access the bag through a side flap by swinging the bag around to the front, sling-fashion, while keeping the bag attached to your body via one shoulder strap. This way you won’t have to put the bag down, which is a decided plus when you’re standing in the muck or surrounded by water or snow.
But before we look inside, I should also note that there is a stiffened top lid that also leads to the bag’s interior. The top lid has a magnetic closure. There’s no way to lock the bag, although the side zips do provide a modicum of security. Still, most thieves will get at a backpack through the top, not the side, and they’ll have little trouble doing that here in a crowded setting. I would recommend keeping a rain cover on the pack to help keep prying hands out, but, alas, none is provided. That’s another point of contention.
The interior of the pack features three, what Peak calls, “FlexFold” dividers, with Velcro-type hook-and-loop fasteners. You position these three dividers as shelves. They can be modified to hold more gear in a somewhat unusual fashion, without adding more dividers: Each shelf end folds upward, forming a mini-shelf. If you’re having trouble picturing it, think of bookends. That’s kind of how they look, if not how they function.
It looks and sounds really cool, but here’s the problem…
The upshot of this divider system is that you can’t fully customize the interior. For starters, bookending either side leaves less cushioning on the remaining end section of the modified shelf/divider. What’s more, the end sections offer rather flimsy support. It’s even possible for something small to fall over the edge of a shelf, into the gap left between shelf and side flap, since the ends just float there, with nothing to secure them to the sides.
On top of that, the FlexFold dividers can’t be repositioned horizontally along the shelf – they’re locked in place at each end. You either use them or you don’t. But you can’t further modify the amount of space devoted to each piece of gear – that is without moving the entire divider up or down. Unless you wrap, say, a lens in soft foam or bubble wrap to keep it snug.
With conventional dividers, you can form a virtually unlimited array of shapeable modules, more with some bags than with others. And you can even shape dividers around lenses, so they don’t move, no matter how much jostling they undergo.
There’s another drawback to this system. Actually more than one. You can access some gear on the top shelf through the lid, but the rest of the gear must be accessed through one of the side panels.
So, what happens if you have one short lens on a mini-shelf on one side of the pack and a second short lens on a mini-shelf on the opposite side? You have to open each flap. And that assumes that you remember where you put which lens. Not to mention, there’s always the possibility of forgetting to close one of the two side flaps that you’ve just opened – unless you open and close them one at a time. (This is where accessing the bag sling-style can actually prove to be more of a bane than a boon.)
One more issue I have with this bag. The dividers use a very dense closed-cell foam. Open-cell foam absorbs vibrations and is ideal for dividers when not overly spongy (that Ultimate Experience pack used very spongy open-cell foam). Closed-cell foam is better shock protection, which works great for the exterior shell and to some degree for dividers. (I’ve always contended that a layered mix of open and closed would be the ideal.) The dividers here are so dense that things just bounce off them. So if there’s too much room, a lens will bounce around – and you don’t want that. You want the lens as snug as the proverbial bug in a rug.
I should add that there is a way to set this divider system up so that one very long lens can stand on end from the very bottom of the bag, but I found it highly impractical. And again, you’d have to cushion the lens against being bounced around.
I also need to point out that the side flaps each have pockets. However, don’t overfill these, as that may get in the way of the gear you can store on each shelf.
I strongly recommend you view the video on Peak Design’s website outlining all the features of the bag. But read between the lines. It’s not all as smooth-sailing as the video would lead you to believe. (Click here for video.)
I’ve already outlined all my issues with the interior design of the pack (see Design: Interior). So no need to repeat myself.
I like the magnetic latches, despite the fact that you can’t lock them. But what I don’t like is that the flap is open at either end, which, in a torrential downpour or with gusty winds at the beach, means water or sand will find a way in.
The bag desperately needs a rain cover. It was shortsighted of Peak Design not to include one, or at least optionally offer one custom made for this pack. Finding one online that fits just right is just too iffy. Not to mention, third party rain covers advertise some other company. I’d like to think that Peak Design would prefer to promote their own products, not someone else’s.
When I tried the empty bag on, it was a comfy fit. And I initially made a point of mentioning that to Peak Design. Fast forward to my experience after I loaded the bag up and the experience was radically different.
I found the shoulder straps with a loaded bag dug into my shoulders. To keep straps from sliding off, which is typical of most packs, I employed the sternum (chest) strap. I found this equally uncomfortable. The one-piece chest strap hooks onto each shoulder strap (instead of two pieces snapping together) – sounds simple in theory, more troublesome in practice.
Then I added the waist belt. Using a waist belt is supposed to take some of the weight off the shoulders. It didn’t do that. There was no added support whatsoever. And the waist belt is too narrow and neither contoured nor padded.
To make matters worse, I noted that, had I been a stockier fellow, the straps would not have fit. This bag is not made for someone with a stocky frame. I also wonder how it would do with layer upon layer upon layer of heavy winter clothing. I didn’t have to dress for winter to figure that one out. It would be a tight fit, if that.
Who Would Use This Backpack?
Novice photographers and photo enthusiasts; this should be a fun pack to use when sightseeing, going to the zoo, or on a nature walk – provided you watch your back(pack) in crowded settings.
While I may quibble with the overall design of the bag, I still find it fashionable, and on someone else’s shoulders, it may prove to be just the right fit. With the right gear optimally packed, and with a few layers of winter outerwear to cushion the shoulder straps, this would be a good choice, provided you added a rain cover.
MATERIALS per Peak Design
Ultralight waxed Kodra synthetic canvas with DWR coating for weatherproofness, poly-spun mixed twill interior, compression-molded high-density EVA foam dividers and protective panels, die-cast and stamped anodized aluminum hardware with sandblasted finish and protective clear coat. Charcoal bags have Hypalon touchpoints, Ash bags have natural leather touchpoints.
PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS per Peak Design
Everyday Backpack 30 (Charcoal or Ash)
Outer Dimensions: 20” H x 13” W x 7.75” D (51 H x 33 W x 20 D cm)
Laptop Sleeve: 16"x10.75"x1.5" (40x27x4cm); designed to carry up to a 15” Macbook Pro Retina, 2009 or later.
Tablet Sleeve: 14" X 9" X 0.4" (33x23x1cm)
Weight: 3.4 lb (1542g)
Carry-on Approved: Carry-on approved for all airlines - fits under airline seat easily (according to the manufacturer)
I wasn’t overly thrilled by the carrying capacity, how the bag felt on my shoulders, or the weatherproofing. Granted, at first glance, I did find myself falling for this bag – but that was short-lived. Once I started to load the bag with gear, the limits of this divider system became all too apparent. Suffice to say, I have smaller backpacks that will hold more, and do it more securely. I would not use this pack when hiking over uneven and rugged terrain, unless you first secure all your gear snugly.
Still, I do feel that Peak Design has a promising design here. I just wish they’d find a more utilitarian way to implement it. Given a few tweaks in the modular dividers, the addition of a rain cover, more heavily padded shoulder straps, the switch to a padded or otherwise more supportive waist belt, and some way to keep prying fingers out, the Everyday Backpack could go far in everyday use, and beyond. For now, I would only take it on short hops sightseeing or on nature walks.
What’s more, the design may be too clever. I prefer a bag where I can get at all my camera gear by simply opening one flap. That’s not the case here, requiring you to use multiple access points to get at all your photo gear. You can’t even see what you’ve got without opening both side flaps.
In the final analysis, would I recommend this photo backpack? Yes, provided you keep the load light and keep your expectations light as well.